6 | Dragon Age: Origins | PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Mac
Bioware invites you to jump into a world of elves, dwarves, and grey wardens. When an army of darkspawn ravages the land and slays the king, you're tasked with rallying the armies of elves, dwarves, and men in a quest to both overthrow the king's betrayer and stop the archdemon from conquering the world.
Bioware knows how to create a compelling universe. Even though high fantasy has been done to death, the magicians at Bioware have carved out an original story that feels fresh while still touching on familiar fantasy tropes like dwarves and magic.
In this action/strategy/role-playing game, you'll take control of a mystical grey warden and three other party members in an epic quest that takes you from elvish forests to dwarven mines.
The combat is full of strategy and has some brutally challenging segments, requiring you to micromanage your parties' tactics and really push the game's capable AI. The tactical choices aren't limited to the combat, either: not only can you customize your character's look, class, and weapon list, but the race and background you select has a major impact on the story. Even minor characters from the "origins" arc found at the game's beginning play a role in impacting later events. Moral choices about who lives and dies (not to mention what side-quests you take) have major repercussions for the end game.
The cast of characters in Dragon Age: Origins are also diverse and interesting, meaning that you must really put thought into how your decisions will affect their approval. For a game as long as Dragon Age, you need a strong mythos and a compelling set of characters: and Origins has them in spades.
5 | Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies | DS
The ninth game in the Dragon Quest series is also the best RPG to ever be released on the Nintendo DS. For the first time, it's possible to create a unique hero, and join together with other players in tackling the game's myriad challenges. Dragon Quest IX also pioneered "tag mode," making it possible to earn maps via the wi-fi connection just by walking down the street.
Even with all the innovation, the world of Dragon Quest IX will be comfortably familiar for veterans of the series. The turn-based combat is solid as ever, and a wide variety of classes makes the customization more interesting than ever. For both longtime fans and newcomers, Dragon Quest IX really is the best of all worlds.
4 | The Witcher 2: Assassin's of Kings | PC
The Witcher 2 is a third-person action-RPG that focuses on the story of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher (monster hunter) who becomes embroiled in a conspiracy to kill kings, a peasant rebellion, and a cabal bent on seizing power and ruling the region (along with rebuilding his shattered memory).
The game features a great deal of swordplay, but use caution: Your foes gang up on you, flanking you and using all of their abilities against you. Your magic comes in handy, though combat remains difficult. And CD Projekt Red, the game's developer, has a 2.0 version in the works with better tutorials and also offers free DLC and no DRM (if you buy the Steam version, you have Steam's DRM). And it's coming to the Xbox 360 soon!